Western Mass Writing Project Newsletter

Our writing project is shifting to an electronic format for our newsletter. It’s nothing fancy in terms of design, but is familiar in format to our folks and provides important information about what is happening around the WMWP world, including an upcoming conference (where I am the keynote speaker).
WMWP Fall 2012 Newsletter
Peace (in the news),

WMWP Best Practices: Digital Literacy Theme

If you are in the Western Massachusetts area, I invite you to consider coming to our Western Massachusetts Writing Project event next month called Best Practices. The theme running through many of the sessions is digital literacy (which is our inquiry idea for WMWP this year). I am honored to have been asked to give a keynote address at the event, and I will be exploring the ways that technology and digital literacies are part of the lives of young people, and how we as educators can recognize and tap into those ideas for learning.
See the program:
WMWP Best Practices 2012 Program
You can register online at the WMWP website.
Peace (in the practice),

Video Reflection: Revisiting “Teaching the New Writing”

As one of the editors and writers in Teaching the New Writing, I thought it might be time to step back and reflect a bit on how the book is holding up against time. In other words, do the chapters by classroom teachers writing about how technology may or may not be changing their teaching of writing (in a culture of standardized testing and assessment) still hold relevance for teachers?

I know such reflection is a bit self-serving, given my role as an editor and writer, but I genuinely wondered about it. So I perused the book once more and decided to just start talking as a video reflection.

In the end, I conclude that there are some chapters that still can be very important to teachers considering or using technology. A few pieces don’t quite stand the test of time. And I think the question of what does writing look like in a digital age is still up for grabs. Is technology changing the way we write, and therefore, the way we teach writing?

I invite you to come participate in a discussion of my reflections. Using a new site that I found (Thanks to my friend, Terry) called Vialogues, you can participate in chats about videos, and more. It’s interesting and worth a visit. Give the site a try by adding your ideas about Teaching the New Writing or about writing in general.

Peace (in the reflective practice),


Digital Literacy and WMWP

Our inquiry theme of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in the coming year will be “digital composition” and yesterday, our leadership board and assorted members (including our WMWP Technology Team) began mapping out some ideas to keep that theme working throughout the year. Our hope is to highlight the ways that technology is impacting or changing our perceptions of writing, and how to help teachers see the change and be part of it. Here are some of the ideas we are chatting about and planning for:

  • We’ll be using the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site as our “text” for the year, using pieces there for inquiry reading and reflections;
  • One of our possible goals as a board is to develop and publish our own “resource” at Digital Is by the end of the year — this will help our board members experience the shift from users to producers of content, with a real audience;
  • Our annual conference in the fall will feature a keynote address around digital literacies, and connections to the Common Core curriculum;
  • We’re considering ways to support teachers around place-based digital storytelling ideas, with hopes of getting students across a wide range of communities to produce pieces that could be shared at a regional Digital Storytelling Showcase event;
  • And more …

It’s exciting to be on this path, and our WMWP Technology Team (we have about eight members of the team) will be the leaders of the inquiry initiative. And as it is the 20th anniversary of the WMWP site (which is quite an accomplishment), the idea of looking ahead to literacies as well as remembering our history is a balance we are striving to achieve.

Peace (in the ideas),


Another TED-ed Flip: Doing Research

TED-ed Doing Research Flip

I continue to experiment with the new TED-ed tool that allows you to use their site to remix or flip content. For this one, I definitely had my sixth graders in mind, as we work around good research skills (a key component to the Common Core).

See what you think — I added a video, a few questions, and then a final thought. If I could get them to watch this at home, it might make our in-class work around research a little easier (such is the nature of the Flipped Classroom, right?)

Go to Doing Research: Strategies for Success

Peace (all flipped out),

Conversations About Tech 3: Writing, Brain Research and More

This is the last in a series of three podcasts that captured a conversation I had at a local elementary school around technology. Part one was Monday and it covered topics of outreach to the community and student engagement. Part two was yesterday and it delved into ideas around digital literacy and equity issues.

The final part of the podcast moved into our expectations of the future (and how to prepare our students for the unknown), considerations of the effects that technology might be having on young minds, and even the divide between formal and informal language (and therefore, the audience you are writing for and what that does to your writing).

Thanks for listening!

Peace (in the podcast),

Conversations about Tech 2: Digital Literacy, Equity and More

This is the second in a series of three podcasts that captured a conversation I had at a local elementary school around technology. Part one was yesterday and it covered topics of outreach to the community and student engagement.

The second part of the podcast revolved around what we mean by digital literacies for young people, how this school (like mine) is shifting into interactive boards and what that means (or doesn’t yet mean) for the classroom, and then we moved into a really important part of the conversation: the idea that schools has an imperative to provide access to technology for ALL students and how equity has to be part of our conversations in schools.

Tomorrow, the last part of the podcast will be shared, and it covers some views around writing and ideas around how the modern world of media and technology is shaping our young people.

Peace (in the podcast),

Conversations About Tech 1: Engagement, Outreach and More

As I have mentioned in a few posts, I have had the privilege of working with some teachers at another elementary school in the past month through the work of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and I spent one whole day there recently, modeling some activities and exploring some ideas with the staff. At the end of the day, I sat down with the principal (Mike), the technology teacher (Liz), the literacy coach (Stephanie) and a lower elementary classroom teacher (Lauren) to talk technology for the school’s podcast feature on its website.

It was one of those great ideas for wrapping up the day, and we had a wonderful conversation that touched on a lot of different areas that relate to technology and learning. The school just posted the podcasts (the hour was wisely divided up into three shorter sections) and I asked the principal if I could grab a copy, and share the conversations out for others. He willingly agreed, and encouraged me to do so.

So I am going to be sharing out the three parts of the podcast over the next few days.

The first part of the podcast revolves around student learning and engagement, and I sought to define digital storytelling a bit (since that was a focus of the day). We also chatted about how to use technology as a school to reach out to parents and the community. The other classroom teacher, Lauren, has her young students now using Twitter to broadcast to family what is going on during the day (no more: “nothing” to the question of “what did you do today?”) We also touched on the idea of moving technology right into the classroom, and not having it seen as a separate unit of instruction.

I hope you enjoy the podcasts – the second part will get published tomorrow, followed by the third piece on Wednesday. Even though I was there, and talking, it was only when I went back and really listened did I realize just how much ground we had covered in our conversation.

Peace (in the podcasts),


Connecting Digital Storytelling with Learning Standards

Later this week, I am going to be spending the day with another elementary school in the region, working with students in some classrooms while teachers observe and then presenting to the whole staff later in the day. My presentation is about digital storytelling, which is a great theme for an entire school to adopt, and about how digital storytelling builds on much of the learning already underway and connects to our new state curriculum standards (ie, Common Core).

Here is a version of my presentation.


Do you notice any glaring holes? Any suggestions? Input?

Peace (in the sharing),


The Writing Project (Teacher) Writers

For the past nine months or so, I have been coordinating a partnership between our local newspaper (The Daily Hampshire Gazette) and our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. My role has been to solicit teachers in our writing project to write an educational column for the monthly education section of the newspaper. It’s a partnership that our writing project once had with another regional newspaper (The Springfield Republican) and it’s a natural fit, in a way.

The newspaper needs columnists. Our teachers can write. And our writing project gets some nice benefits by being associated with some great writers and educators in a very public forum. (Unfortunately, they don’t get paid for writing for the newspaper.) While the newspaper runs a paid website for most of its content, they have agreed to provide us with public urls to the columns by our teachers. So, here is what we have written about and explored this year:

My wife, Leslie, is a media specialists/librarian at a vocational high school, and she has done a lot of work around book clubs for her students. A grant she received has allowed her to run after-school programs that now mesh books with film.

“When I started a book club at my school, I wasn’t so naïve as to imagine that high school students would choose multicultural classics, or even books with optimistic themes. But I also didn’t expect a steady diet of dystopian literature or books about youth getting a raw deal from those in power.” — read more of her column

Momodou Sarr teaches special education at a regional high school. His column was about the power of community and the power of expectations of our students, no matter the academic level. He also shows how project-based learning, with real involvement in the community, can make a difference.

“Teaching in a self-contained classroom means that a group of students becomes your family, in a way. It is interesting to watch how grade-level identities disappear. Students coming together in one classroom begin the difficult task of trusting each other, letting stereotypes melt away as they gain trust in each other as well as the teachers in the classroom.” — read more of his column

Alicia Lopez wrote about her experiences teaching at a middle school, and about how emerging student writers are a powerful group to be witness to, and help along. She also explains how difficult it can be for a teacher to juggle teaching with their own lives outside of school.

“I find it hard to believe that I am halfway through my 17th year as a language teacher. I have taught grades five to 12, and am now in my eighth year of teaching middle school in Amherst. Having come from a family of supremely dedicated and hard-working teachers, I resisted the profession for a long time. I saw the exhaustion and frustration on my parents’ faces after a long day of teaching and dealing with students. Eventually, though, the other side of that story is what has kept me teaching: the simple rewards of reaching a student, of making a connection, of, in the long run, changing a life.” – read the rest of her column

Michael Braidman teaches English and runs the Drama Club at a high school. He wrote about the experience of providing a multitude of rich experiences for his students, and watching them flourish on the stage.

“As educators, we find opportunities both in and out of the classroom. I’m fortunate enough to run my high school’s drama company, which, like all extracurriculars, provides valuable teaching experiences for its coach as well as great learning opportunities for participants. After school the auditorium becomes like a second classroom for me, a place where I engage students in intellectual discussions on literature (specifically, plays we’re producing) as well as teach them about the various tasks, materials and arrangements necessary to put on a theatrical production. When I bring together a cast and crew to prepare, rehearse and perform a play, I’m facilitating all sorts of learning, as well as giving students a chance to have some fun. Some of them also find unique leadership opportunities.” – read more of his column

Julie Spencer-Robinson used her column to tell the story of how she helps her middle school students understand empathy, and action on behalf of others.

““Who are those kids?” Andrew asked me. He was talking about the boy in the wheelchair who rolled down the hallway outside our sixth-grade classroom every day, accompanied by one or two of his classmates and their aides. “Oh, they’re in a special class down the hall,” I replied. Later, we learned that the name of the boy in the wheelchair was Gary, and he and Andrew quickly struck up a friendship. They would hang out together at Andrew’s locker, and Gary would use his communication device — or his aide — to crack jokes with his new friend. Pretty soon Gary was coming into our classroom to visit, and so were some of the other kids in his class. ” — read more of her column

And I kicked off the series last fall with a piece on understanding video gaming as I listened to my students.

“It’s become clear to me over the last few years that video gaming is one of those worlds that most teachers and most adults know very little about, and one area of youth culture that we are more likely to dismiss as entertaining diversions rather than immersive environments where interesting learning and skill development takes place. We’re more likely to dismiss gaming rather than embrace it.” — read more of my column

We’re proud of our teachers and about the ways we have worked with the newspaper to focus on our teachers as writers. Just as important, we know we have important things to say, and the newspaper has been just another way to reach our audience.

Peace (in the sharing),